Himalayan Journal vol.24
The Himalayan Journal
Vol.24

Publication year:
1963

Editor:
Dr K. Biswas
Index
  1. EDITORIAL
  2. THE ASCENT OF JANNU
    (Pierre Leroux)
  3. ASCENT OF NUPCHU
    (SASUKE NAKAO)
  4. EVEREST; 1962
    (SUMA.N DUBEY)
  5. TRANSPORT AND SHERPAS ON MOUNT EVEREST, 1963
    (J. O. M. ROBERTS)
  6. PUMORI -THE DAUGHTER MOUNTAIN (23,442 FEET)
    (GERHARD LENSER)
  7. THE NETHERLANDS HIMALAYAN EXPEDITION TO CENTRAL WEST-NEPAL, 1962
    (P. VAN LOOKEREN CAMPAGNE)
  8. DHAULA HIMAL
    (JAMES ROBERTS)
  9. THE JAGDULA EXPEDITION, 19621
    (DENISE EVANS)
  10. MANA-NILGIRI EXPEDITION, 1962
    (Captain S. N. DUBEY)
  11. A CAMPING TRIP TO THE HIMALAYA, 1960
    (DR. W. HAMBERGER)
  12. ITALIAN EXPEDITION TO THE PUNJAB HIMALAYAS, 1961
    (PAOLO CONSIGLIO)
  13. THE ASCENTS OF INDRASAN AND DEO TIBBA
    (PROF. DR. K. ONODERA)
  14. KHINYANG CHHISH, 1962
    (DR. P. J. HORNIBLOW)
  15. SWAT AND INDUS KOHISTAN
    (TREVOR BRAHAM)
  16. BRITISH-SOVIET PAMIRS EXPEDITION, 1962
    (SIR JOHN HUNT)
  17. EXPEDITIONS AND NOTES
  18. OBITUARY
  19. BOOK REVIEWS
  20. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
  21. CLUB PROCEEDINGS, 1962-63
  22. THE HIMALAYAN CLUB

EVEREST; 1962

SUMA.N DUBEY

Planning and packing for an Everest expedition may be aptly described as an ordeal. Unlike smaller expeditions in which it is quite safe to leave such unpleasant jobs to the last week or so, an Everest expedition plunges its temporarily unfortunate members from the start into figures, tables and a seemingly unending flow of letters and bills. Details are superfluous, but the scenes at Delhi served as an introduction to what was to follow at railhead Jaya- nagar, on the Bihar-Nepal border. Loads by the hundred were being allotted far into the night, and early in the morning the numerous chattering and laughing porters were clamouring for their advances. Even so the confusion was colourful enough. Jack (Major J. D. Dias), our leader, surveying everything with a cold eye, swore again at the paper-work involved, whilst Sonam Gyatso, who more than once has been mistaken for a Sherpa, slept through it all, notwithstanding the mosquitoes and the anti-tetanus jabs. Angtharkay, our Sirdar, brandishing an empty sack forced troublesome porters into submission, and in the midst of all the confusion stood Jangu (Captain A. B. Jungalwalla) gesticulating wildly and shouting at or perhaps flirting with the Sherpanis. Mohan Kohli and K. P. Sharma kept a watchful eye on the equipment whilst O. P. Sharma and I battled with cook Thondup who was by now convinced that the food we had given him would not suffice for his numerous girl friends, let alone for the sahibs! Hari Dang and Chou (Flight- Lieutenant A. K. Choudhary) managed to get hold of a jeep and disappeared towards the border to persuade the officials to allow us to enter Nepal the following day. Our efficient doctors, Ashoke Nanavati and Soo (Captain M. A. Soares), brandished syringes gaily until it came to immunizing themselves. The one person who obviously enjoyed everything was Guru (Gurdial Singh) who, armed with a cine camera, was recording the scene for posterity.

The approach march, during which eight hundred and sixteen sixty-pound loads were lifted, was in the early stages a disappointment. The only relief in this monotonous march proved to be the Sun Kosi crossing where some of us swam the river a number of times. With a disinterest amounting almost to boredom we continued until we came to the Jantar Dham, truly, as its name denotes, the home of magic. For this ridge not only provides the first view of Everest but also marks the entrance to Solu, the lower Sherpa district. The first impression is of an obviously more prosperous area. Hill slopes, gentler and more fertile, are terraced from the valleys to the summits and tiny hamlets, consisting often of triple- storeyed whitewashed houses, dot the slopes with pleasing irregularity. Low-altitude Sherpa porters are in their element here, and song and dance go on till late in the night, punctuated with the inevitable chang and arak. One learns not only of their simple way of life but of countless expeditions so interestingly told.

At Solu, too, we entered the region of the high hills, the region of numerous Rhododendrons and, so early in the year, the Primula denticulata Smith, and the Primula sessilis Royle=P. petio- laris Hall. The Takshindu monastery marks the entrance to Khumbu, the land of the Angtharkays and Tenzings. Speeding through Namche Bazar as fast as we could, for this is a village with an insatiable appetite for expedition stores, we arrived on March 8 at our acclimatization camp at Thyangboche.

Thyangboche in early March is covered by a mantle of snow, so very graceful until our army of eight hundred porters and 40 Sherpas had trampled it into a sodden carpet. The monastery has erected a wooden hut for ‘tourists' and after the necessary formalities, we hastened to occupy it. Being relatively remote and little touched by administration, Khumbu depends largely on trade with Tibet. For this reason, its monasteries enjoy a reputation far beyond the confines of Nepal. Thyangboche, in particular, holds annual festivals to which pilgrims from far and wide are attracted. We were graciously received by the Incarnate Lama.

Acclimatization has been dealt with thoroughly from both the scientist's and the climber's points of view. Although it is a fact that one's blood requires time to get accustomed to scanty oxygen, it seems to me that too much is made of the so-called acclimatization period. On the present expedition, the march from Jayanagar to Thyangboche-a matter of fourteen days-was, if followed by a high camp, acclimatization enough. There were no cases of sickness whatsoever. Later, when we divided up into groups and began climbs of up to 19,000 feet, there were again no cases reported. As for efficiency a few days at Base and a couple of trips up the ice-fall would have been enough. Any Indian who wishes to climb must get to at least 17,000 feet or more, and out of necessity becomes accustomed to altitude. Acclimatization would appear to be more a matter of luck than anything else. During the three weeks there we made numerous excursions to neighbouring villages, apart from the actual business of climbing. Oxygen trials and more sorting of loads occupied a good deal of time. Here, too, C. P. Vohra and Mulky (Captain M. R. Anand) joined us, having undertaken earlier to wait for the oxygen masks from France.

Towards the end of March the snows began to melt and mustering a new set of porters we started on the last lap to Base Camp. The route lay along the Imjya Khola as far as Dingboche, in the shadow of Ama Dablam. Then avoiding the stream-riddled valley of the Khumbu Khola we climbed to Lobuje on the right bank of the Khumbu Glacier. A short day took us to Gorakshep, and on March 29 we arrived at the very inhospitable Base Camp-site at 17,600 feet. Towards the afternoon, as the last shouts of the porters died away in the distance, we got to work, and under Guru's careful supervision, a neat little colony sprang up. Here in the centre of a vast amphitheatre, it was marvellous to listen to Jack outline initial plans, intensifying our itch to get to grips with the mountain itself. All our loads had been packed into crates carrying sixty pounds each. At Base Camp these were split into loads of forty pounds each, that being the amount a Sherpa or member carries on the mountain. The oxygen bottles, 120 in number, were allotted four to a load but on the mountain this was reduced to three. Most of our food consisted of dais, rice and atta, with ample quantities of dehydrated and tinned vegetables. The large stock of tinned meat was hardly touched because of the ready availability of yaks, goats and chicken. Surprising as it is, during the course of the expedition, roughly eighteen yaks and ninety goats were consumed. As for chicken, it is sufficient to say that the shortage of eggs was probably of our own making, though in making purchases, care was taken to ensure that the economy of the area did not suffer. More often than not, meat was cooked at Base and then transported to the higher camps where it was just warmed up-an arrangement particularly successful for Camp IV and beyond. We had also an enormous stock of beverages, oats, cheese, flakes, milk, sugar and other luxuries. Food was at no stage a problem.

We were to operate in three parties of four climbers each. Although it would have been futile to make plans too far ahead, this arrangement was carried on till high up on the Lhotse face. One party and their Sherpas would probe forward, a second party ferry and the third rest at Base. Switch-overs were to take place every four days, weather permitting.

The complete ice-fall cannot be seen from Base Camp, the last couple of hundred feet being hidden by gigantic seracs. It seems to rise gently, at first, from the seracs of the Khumbu Glacier and for the first six hundred feet is relatively less broken. Then abruptly it cracks up into a chaotic mess getting steeper and more crumbled as it goes higher, its giant seracs clawing upwards as if in an attempt to escape the teeming mass of crystallized fury. Even in this chaos it was possible to distinguish five vague diagonal fissures which, by stretching the term a bit, could be called crevasses. Our route lay skirting the first two on the left, into the second and over a couple of hundred feet of broken ice blocks to Camp I at roughly 19,200 feet.

Jack, Hari, Jangu and Chou tackled the ice-fall first. Route making on the first day was easy and we watched from Base as they cut steps, fixed handrails and laid numerous bridges. That day they climbed to within three hundred feet of Camp I, laying in one short stretch as many as four bridges, one of them sixteen feet long. The next day, April 1, they set up Camp I on a surprisingly large platform, sheltered by a large ice-wall. Though later in the season seracs began to crumble all around and even the platform broke up into an unrecognizable mass of ice blocks, this wall stood steadfast the whole time. This camp was used only for four days, but sleeping there always gave me an incomplete feeling, for, we were like the Duke of York's men, ‘neither up nor down’. The periodic grunts and groans of the glacier beneath did nothing to relieve this feeling. The first party took the route another three hundred feet up to the edge of a series of three crevasses that lay next to each other separating the Western Cwm from the rest of the ice-fall. The word crevasse is used again in a loose sense, the specimens in question being a couple of hundred feet deep, as many metres across and spanning enough of the ice-fall's width to discourage any plans for circumventing them. After having fixed additional rope on the lower ice-fall Mohan, C.P., K.P., and I took over from here.

Early on the 4th morning we hurried to where the route left off. A little gingerly we stepped into the first crevasse, a yawning green monster, and cut our way past the 'skeleton serac'-a peculiar narrow block of ice with holes in it which looked as if it would come down any moment. On the far side was a subsidiary crevasse that required a twelve feet aluminium ladder bridge. Pressing on we climbed under another ice block which had an old rope hanging ominously from it, and got out of this first crevasse by way of a steep ice ramp from which I once fell, landing on my face, in soft snow ten feet below. Almost immediately we found ourselves at the entrance to the second crevasse. Getting into this one was easy ice-boulder hopping, but getting out of it and into the third occupied us the whole afternoon and next morning. There were two alternatives: one, to get into a subsidiary branch of the main crevasse with dangerously overhanging sides and up some flimsy ice blocks separating the two crevasses. The other, to avoid the ice blocks altogether by descending a little. Almost unanimously we decided on the latter. Descending a short way in the second crevasse, we were climbing optimistically when suddenly we came face to face with a fourth crevasse ! Ice blocks we could take, but no more crevasses. After a short reconnaissance upwards we retired to camp.

Next day, thanks to some excellent work by Mohan, we were able to surmount this last obstacle by early afternoon. Cautiously, one at a time, we climbed past the overhangs into the subsidiary crevasse, to the foot of the ice blocks. This section soon acquired the nickname, the skeleton alley'. Climbing the blocks was even more uncomfortable than it looked. Since this had to be done one rope at a time, those awaiting their turn always had a vague feeling that something was about to topple. It was with considerable relief we climbed to the top of the wretched blocks where a steep drop awaited us on the other side. After a little fruitless probing here and there, we let down a rope ladder and descended into the third crevasse. Ultimately this was replaced by one twenty-four-foot long vertical aluminium ladder, and one eight-foot long section. Dodging a few small fissures and blocks we climbed out of the 4 crevasse on to some wide shelves below the level of the Cwm. It was only a matter of time before we stood at the site of Camp II, looking at the wonderful panorama that confronted us. Deep behind the Cwm rose the Lhotse face and the Geneva Spur, hiding the South Col behind its crest. The summit of Everest peeped inquiringly over the western shoulder. We pitched a tent and, turning to go, looked straight over the Lo La into Tibet. On many an occasion, the Lo La treated us to spectacular avalanches, the cool ice spray from which would often reach Base Camp. Our route in the ice-fall, now complete, was quite safe from such external dangers. Picturesquely situated though it was, after a while Camp II also fell into disuse, Base to Camp III being a comfortable 6-7-hour trip.

The Western Cwm is very deceptive. The innocent coat of snow hides a number of undetectable crevasses, and the seemingly simple walk is rendered intolerable by the extreme lassitude experienced on a hot day. I am told that temperatures in excess of 55° C. have been recorded. The next day, April 6, we met Guru, Sonam, Mulky and O.P. on their way up to Camp II. As I descended to Base, I thought of their unenviable job of tramping from Camp II (20,000 feet) to Camp III (21,200 feet) and thence to Camp IV (22,400 feet) at the foot of the Lhotse face. For them the job had novelty, a saving grace, and sometimes crevasses received unexpected visitors. One Sherpa, Mingma Norbu, in particular, was ecstatic about the multicoloured cavern he found himself in after a sixty-foot drop. They reached Camp III on the 7th and Camp IV on April 8. At Camp IV they claimed to have pitched a tent, and indeed brought back photographs to prove it. When after ten days or so Jack went up to the camp, he found the tent all right-but no poles, lying huddled under soft snow where it should have been pitched. For long minutes afterwards the intercom sets buzzed with scholarly expletives from Guru matched by pongo specimens from Jack. For us down at Base, this party brought back a most welcome surprise. At the Swiss (1956) Camp IV, midway between our Camps III and IV, they found some perfectly preserved cheese. Although it crumbled at the touch, we pounced on it without awaiting a doctor's verdict.

At this early stage wind speeds on the Lhotse face were very high and the weather began to show signs of becoming freakish. Every afternoon was rendered useless by the flow of westerly depressions that had begun to come in over the Everest area. Our weather bulletins predicted 'occasional snow and one or two thunderstorms in the afternoonWeather reports have a reputation for inaccuracy but, if anything, ours underestimated these ' one or two thunderstorms '. We had, however, another reason for tuning into these bulletins thrice daily. All-India Radio broadcast, after each bulletin, at our request, ten minutes of classical music. The more popular variety was, too, easily available almost the whole day over the radio. As a result of these weather conditions we decided to stop probing forward for a bit, and began to stock Camp II, by a system of ferries. Each ferry consisted of about thirty Sherpas and three or four members. In this manner about a thousand pounds were lifted daily. Jack was one exception, accompanying most of the ferries, whilst the others, on off days, either rested or like photographers, Guru, C.P., and I, went on trips higher up to try for various effects. During this period I came to know, like everyone else, the ice-fall very thoroughly. When, however, in mid-May I descended to Base after a long stay above, the route had altered so much that it was difficult to identify even the most prominent features. By that time the ice-fall was covered by a thin layer of dust, and the ice which used to arrest crampons in such a crisp confident manner, now became a slushy mess. In spite of this the ice-fall was always the finest part of the climb.

Camp III, apart from Base, was the most comfortable camp. So much so that Soo spent 45 consecutive days there-cultivating potatoes, it was rumoured ! (Ashoke was holding the fort at Base Camp). Most of the oxygen and high-altitude equipment was brought here before transportation higher up. At one time there were eleven members and over thirty Sherpas staying and, thanks to Lhakpa Tsering, our second cook, being fed magnificently. During the peak period there were three large mess tents, two accommodating fifteen or more Sherpas each, and the third the members. Most of the stores that could not be left in the open were stored in French four-man Jamet tents.

One day during the early part of May, we picked up a strange voice on the 4 o'clock intercom transmission. It was obviously a European language and was so loud and clear that everyone in the tent could hear it. As the range of our sets was only twelve miles we began to suspect that it was Yugoslav, as there had been a rumour that the northern face was being attempted by an expedition from that country. This subsequently proved to be incorrect since the only people on the northern face were four courageous, if not foolhardy, Americans. We tried these mysterious people in English, French and German but without result. The voice was heard again at 4 p.m. on another day on the same frequency but its origin still remains an enigma.

Camp IV has, in the past, been the bugbear of Everest expeditions on account of the death of a Sherpa near it in 1952. However, we had a set of most reasonable Sherpas who thought nothing of living with the poor fellow's spirit. The most disconcerting thing about this camp was that although the tents were admirably placed, the rock and snow avalanches sounded too close for comfort, especially at night. Here, too, in due course, a stockpile of oxygen was built up and stocking was done on days of bad weather.

When, after a postponement due to bad weather, we moved up to the Lhotse face, there was ample evidence that much of our work would consist of ploughing through soft snow. Jack's party would work on the lower part of the face, our party would supply them from Camp II whilst Guru would keep sending up supplies from Base. The Lhotse face rises in a world of its own: the snows driven off Everest trickle around its barren summits giving them a strangely distant effect. From the foot of the face, one can see bulge upon bulge of ice until finally the rocks protrude outwards at a fantastic angle. Here, too, a heavy coat of snow lay over the hard, gleaming ice. Hour after hour it was the same-scraping off the snow, cutting a step, hammering in a piton and fastening the rope. When the coat of soft snow was absent, there were stretches of glazed ice, of a deep bluish tinge, in its place. And yet it was as varied a job as could be hoped for; the soft snow, a continual menace, like the steep drop not ten feet away. The route on Everest changes only to the extent that the ice-fall is never the same two years running nor very slightly is the Lhotse face. In 1962, the lower part of the face was breaking off in a gigantic block of ice. The result was that a crevasse spanning the entire face and about sixty feet wide had formed. Obviously unbridgeable, an attempt was made to circumvent it by climbing into the Lhotse couloir. Climbing up the wide slope was certainly comfortable, but it was also dangerous and this is where tragedy overtook us. Having climbed only two hundred feet with three ropes strung out in the couloir, Jack's party were surprised by a deep rumble from above. Just in time they fell flat on the ice as a rock shower, from three thousand feet above, peeled off over them. One unrelenting rock, the size of a watermelon, hit Nawang Tsering as he lay next to Chou, his companion for five seasons. The impact threw him some twenty yards off the track, but even in this critical state he landed on his ice-axe which, taking the shock, broke. His fall had been arrested, but the blow had shattered his liver. He was carried in great pain to Camp IV from where, using an aluminium ladder as a stretcher, he was taken to Soo at Camp III. Assisted by oxygen and a shot of morphine he became more comfortable. In one of his few moments of consciousness he, typically, asked the ‘burrah sahib' to forgive him for causing so much trouble-perhaps with some premonition of the fate that was speedily to overtake him. At 1 a.m. he improved a little but with a shattered liver and probably a lot more damaged there seemed little hope. At 4 a.m., exactly twelve hours after the accident, with a few tortured breaths he passed away, immortalized in our minds and forever inseparable from the history of Everest.

The next day, April 28, a sad procession carried him to the edge of the Cwm where under a large boulder, in a woodlined grave, he was laid to rest. With the passage of time his body will gradually sink into the Khumbu Glacier, preserved for all time to come. For us, and especially for Chou, there will even be the memory of the laughing face with yellow snow goggles, and the lovable personality. Death in the mountains is an occupational hazard, but there is an unreal air about it, particularly if it occurs in as wanton a manner as this. It seemed futile to try to reconcile oneself to the fact, and for a time the thrill of climbing was missing.

Jack, Hari and Chou did a magnificent job in two days. They made the route six hundred feet up to the edge of the large crevasse. Relieving them, C.P. and I moved up, but before we could reach the face, it snowed heavily for two days and all we could do was to ascertain that the route across the crevasse lay over a snow-bridge about four hundred metres towards Nuptse involving a long traverse. From us, Sonam and K.P., with three first-rate Sherpas, Sonam Girmi; Phu Dorji I and Da Norbu, took over. On May 6, they crossed the snow-bridge and climbed to the 23,600-foot site of lower Camp V, used only to take the route a little higher. It was getting late in the season and the weather had robbed us of many days, so it was with relief that we heard this good news, but our elation was short-lived. On the 7th as Sonam and K.P. were crossing the last slope into Camp V, there was a sudden hiss as a soft snow slab peeled off from the slope and an avalanche poured straight down on them. Sonam and K.P. and two of the Sherpas anchored themselves, but four others a little behind were swept away and came to a halt six hundred feet below, at the edge of the large crevasse. To escape with their lives after such a drop on the Lhotse face was nothing short of a miracle. At Camp III we knew none of this for afternoon clouds normally obscure the face. During the 6 p.m. transmission we were wondering what on earth Camp V was up to when suddenly K.P.'s high-pitched voice shouted out the news. For a moment it was difficult to imagine that anyone would survive for K.P. had mentioned internal injuries and it was with a growing sense of hopelessness that we set out to meet the returning victims. Late that night when they were half-carried, half-supported in, it was discovered that there were two cases of broken bones and two of severe shock. A small price to pay in the circumstances, but it halted the momentum of the advance.

On the 9th, Guru and Mohan, supported by Mulky and myself, moved to Camp IV and later to Camp V. In two days free of snowfall, Mohan took the route up to the edge of the Lhotse couloir and shifted the camp to its permanent site on a very precarious perch at 24,000 feet. They returned on the 14th. We were now considerably behind schedule and so it was decided to confine ourselves to one summit attempt only. Taking over from here, Jack and Jangu spent four days at Camp V during which only one was fine. Everest was, it seemed, striking with a vengeance. They fixed four hundred feet of rope on the eight hundred feet wide couloir. On their return, the first of the two South Col ferries required to launch a summit attempt, was given the green signal. This was done without further work on the route, since from the Yellow Band to the South Col is an easy climb up the Lhotse side of the Geneva Spur. Mulky and Chou, with their seventeen Sherpas, moved to Camp V from where, on May 21, they reached the South Col dumping fifteen 30 lb. loads there. The South Col had to be stocked with sufficient food and Butane for 12 people for three days, about 40 bottles of oxygen each weighing 13 lb. and five tents for the Col and one for Camp VII were taken up. In the meantime, Hari and I went to Camp IV to await Guru, Sonam and Mohan, the summitters, and Jack who would be supporting. That night, Hari says he heard a deep thump from up on the face but thought nothing about it. The next day, some Sherpas en route for Camp V suddenly turned back from the giant crevasse. We shouted upwards to find out what had happened, and back came the reply in a whisper that the natural snow-bridge had broken ! This seemed almost to clinch matters for the expedition. Hurriedly climbing to the scene, one look was enough to confirm that the only method to cross the crevasse was by climbing into it and out the other side. Slowly we descended, and Hari, who was in the lead, stepped on to a cantilever bridge of ice that spanned the crevasse floor and led to a steep ramp on the far side. Fortunately one could not see how hollow the space underneath was until one was across. Henceforth this bridge was crossed only by one at a time and that, too, with careful belays on either side.

The route restored, the six members and seventeen Sherpas moved to Camp V. Aided by an excellent dinner of roast chicken, carried from Base, and plenty of oxygen, I had the best sleep, here at 24,000 feet, than I ever before had on the mountain. A word here about oxygen. The first night I spent in Camp IV, this being about the highest I had climbed before, I was barely able to sleep for a couple of hours. This inability to sleep must be purely psychological for later, with a little oxygen breathed for only an hour, I could sleep up to seven hours. Our planning for oxygen was based on the assumption that it would be used from 23,000 feet upwards. At that altitude, being more of an effort to use than an asset, it was not used for climbing till about 25,000 feet the Yellow Band traverse. Our total stock was 120,940 litre bottles.

On May 24, we moved towards the South Col on the last lap of our journey. Climbing without oxygen and with a fifty pound load was exhausting and it was with considerable relief that I switched on to three litres a minute. With effortless ease the cold, almost metallic, stream of oxygen began to flow, and fatigue and mental grogginess disappeared. The Yellow Band soon loomed before us large and vertical, and the unpleasant scraping of crampons on the smooth rock promised a thrilling crossing. The last thousand feet took a long time. Even oxygen has its disadvantages, some of it perpetually fogging up my goggles and causing me waste of energy. When we stopped to remove crampons before walking on to the Geneva Spur, I tried to adjust my mask, but such actions are usually fairly sluggish and produce little result. As one leaves the Yellow Band, one is just higher than the lowest point of Lhotse- Nuptse and though clouds obscured the view towards Thyangboche, Tibet on the other side was clear. Not too far away one could see the dark brown uplands and, nearer, the West Rongbuck Glacier snaked its way round to the north of the mountain. The Cwm looked strangely distant and Camp III could be identified as a blur in the middle of it. Lhotse looked fantastically jagged, and climbing higher we began to cast jealous eyes at Nuptse, so tantalizingly close, which we knew must sink below us before we reached the Col. As we turned the crest of the Geneva Spur, the legendary west wind hit us almost with a bang. This wind, funnelled over the Lo La, through the Western Cwm, shoots out over the South Col at speeds of fifty knots which, on a windy day, may increase to eighty or more. Just before arriving at the top, Hari discovered that his oxygen valve was closed. He had, inadvertently, carried fifty pounds to the Col on no oxygen ! We arrived late that afternoon at Camp VI, 26,261 feet.

AN ALUMINIUM BRIDGE AND A SMALL LOG BRIDGE USED IN THE ICE FALL. By courtesy of Indian Mountaineering Foundation

AN ALUMINIUM BRIDGE AND A SMALL LOG BRIDGE USED IN THE ICE FALL. By courtesy of Indian Mountaineering Foundation



A 24 FT  AND AN 8 FT LADDER ON THE BLOCKS SEPARETING TWO CREVASSES. By courtesy of Indian Mountaineering Foundation

A 24 FT AND AN 8 FT LADDER ON THE BLOCKS SEPARETING TWO CREVASSES. By courtesy of Indian Mountaineering Foundation



In the Lhotse couloir approaching the ywllow band at 24,850 ft. The Geneva spur greatly foreshortened in the background. By courtesy of Indian Mountaineering Foundation

In the Lhotse couloir approaching the ywllow band at 24,850 ft. The Geneva spur greatly foreshortened in the background. By courtesy of Indian Mountaineering Foundation



On the south col, 26,260 ft, before departing for camp VI. By courtesy of Indian Mountaineering Foundation

On the south col, 26,260 ft, before departing for camp VI. By courtesy of Indian Mountaineering Foundation



That first night I slept soundly out of pure exhaustion. Also it was the only night on which we had sufficient oxygen. The temperature must have been in the region of minus 50° C. and the tents flapping in the wind sounded like machine-gun fire. On the South Col the sun rises before 5 a.m. but it was not till 10 that anyone ventured out into an awful day. It was obvious that a move was out of the question, so the day was spent melting snow and making soups and juices. Since one cannot depend on Sherpas alone to do all the cooking, we had Butane gas-burners in our Jamet tent which has a space, four-foot square, for storage. Our consumption of food may seem scanty but at that altitude the desire for solid food diminishes and the thirst for liquids increases. Even here at nearly 26,000 feet, one could be fairly active without gasping for breath but any sudden or jerky movements were most uncomfortable. Towards evening Da Norbu, the one Sherpa who in the most trying conditions was always active, unexpectedly brought in a bowl of rice and another of meat curry. Though it looked like a dog dinner, we did full justice to so generous a gesture. Late that night, in an effort to conserve oxygen for higher up, we picked up some old Swiss bottles which still contained oxygen. Our adaptors were of a different size, but by clipping rubber hoses to the outlets we were able to control the blast to something like ten litres a minute. Needless to say each bottle lasted barely an hour but it helped us to doze off. However, owing to the shortage of even these bottles, two of us had to share one. It was planned that each would use the bottle for fifteen, minutes and then pass it to the next man, and so on. The disillusioning fact remains that, just as one was about to doze off, two unkind hands would snatch the bottle away with a muttered, ' My turnand the unfortunate was left to complete his dreams by himself. Dawn being a matter of time only, we tolerated this cheerfully and rose to a relatively fine day. Owing to some miscalculation in the number of oxygen loads to go to the Col, we were short by two bottles. Since Hari was the fittest of the three members, Jack and I volunteered to remain behind and he went to deposit the summitters at Camp VII, accompanied by Angtharkay, Phu Dorji I, Nima Thondup, Ang Tsering, Mingma Tsering and Da Norbu. Angtharkay at fifty-five must be the oldest to go to such a height, and this was Da Norbu's fourth trip to the same camp. Almost before they were a few hundred yards from camp, we saw Nima Thondup turn back, and as I helped him to his tent he complained of breathlessness. Thinking it was severe fatigue we put him to bed with a hot mug of soup. Fortunately for himself he had brought down his bottle of oxygen. The loads for Camp VII consisted of one Blanchard tent, food, two Butane burners and nine oxygen bottles. It was with difficulty that the tent was ultimately pitched for though exceedingly light, only six pounds, it is fairly large. It ensured at least some measure of comfort for three people.

With nothing to do except await the return of the others we explored the Col. It seems strange to find such a junk heap at this outpost of existence. Hundreds of oxygen bottles and thousands of tins lie uselessly about. The most precious items recovered were unopened tins of ham, soups and beans. I also found a peculiar plastic contraption which looked extremely scientific and efficient but without any apparent use on the South Col. At about 11.30 looking upwards we saw a figure turn back from just under 27,000 feet. It turned out to be Guru who, feeling dehydrated, had told Hari to take his place instead of endangering the success of the others. It was a typically generous gesture. We saw the climbers climb the ‘leap-frog gully' and traverse the rocks below the ridge to a campsite near 27,700 feet. At about 6 p.m. the Sherpas returned and we prepared for our third night on the Col, this time without even Swiss bottles.

The weather, next morning, the 29th, was a cruel disappointment. We were hoping for a happy coincidence in the date of ascent, whereas instead we were enveloped in a thick swirling mist. Fortunately the three at Camp VII stuck it out even though they were without oxygen which had to be conserved for the climb. Nima's condition had by now become very bad and he had to go down. At 1 p.m., Angtharkay, & two Sherpas and I tried to take him, but two hundred yards from camp it became obvious that he would not make it that day, so reluctantly we sent him back. That day I could only descend to Camp V, and made it to Camp III on the next day.

On the 30th Sonam, Mohan and Hari attempted the summit. They rose to a very clear morning and in the first two hours climbed almost eight hundred feet. There, at about 9 a.m., the wind began blowing and in practically no time clouds enveloped them. Conditions deteriorated rapidly and the going became very tough. In the next five hours they were able to ascend only another two hundred feet or so as far as the last rocks just below the south summit. The altitude was 28,600 feet. There was little choice but to turn back, for though under the circumstances it might have been possible to reach the summit, it would have been impossible to have got back safely. Turning back at about 3 p.m., they began a nightmare descent, and belaying each other at every step, they retraced their way down the south-east ridge. At one point Sonam slipped, taking Hari with him and it was only with luck that Mohan held them. Sonam, who had been over the route only two years before, thought he recognized a short cut. He proceeded straight out to a rock face which, though perhaps shorter, slowed them down considerably, and before long they were overtaken by darkness whilst still out of sight of camp. After stumbling about in the dark for some time they decided to head straight for the South Col. It was while attempting to do this that they recognized a black shape to be the tent, half-buried and almost swept away by the wind. It was about 10 p.m., and without any food or oxygen they sank into their sleeping-bags, for the third night running. On the 31st they could only make it to the South Col where Guru and Da Norbu awaited them, almost without hope. Nima was still there, critically ill.

Down at Camp III we had no news of what was happening. All that we knew was that on the South Col they must have run out of both oxygen and food. The weather and the nearness of the monsoon had left us no time to stock the South Col as we would have wished. On the 30th, the day of the attempt, Jack and Ang Tsering tried to bring Nima down but without success. On the 31st, their fifth day above the Col, two young Sherpas were dispatched from Camp III straight to the Col. Siku Porche and Phu Dorji II carried oxygen and coramine, a heart stimulant, for Nima. Starting at six in the morning, they were on the Col by two in the afternoon. They had instructions that if all was well they should walk out on to the couloir as a prearranged signal. For some reason or other the intercom sets were not working. So, when no one appeared we began to suspect the worst and, on June 1, Mulky and eight Sherpas left for Camp V as a rescue party. They had barely arrived there when eight dots detached themselves from the rocks of the Geneva Spur, and started crossing the couloir. It transpired that Guru had kept our two Sherpas to help in bringing down Nima. Eight dots meant that everyone was alive, something we had been almost too scared to hope for. We received the news of the summit party having got to 28,600 feet with such calm that I was surprised it could have mattered so little. I think that by the time the news came no one was seriously worried about success or failure; the welfare of the climbers alone mattered to us all. That we had done our best no one doubted, but too often factors beyond human control decide the issue.